As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, issues around the independence of the media have been an issue for civil society in 2019. Recent assessments by international media tell a contrasting story to perspectives from the ground. According to Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Croatia improved by five places from 69th place in 2018 to 64th place in 2019. Yet, local groups claim that this doesn't necessarily represent the variety of obstacles faced by Croatian media.
As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, issues around the independence of the media have been an issue for civil society in 2019. Recent assessments by international media tell a contrasting story to perspectives from the ground. According to Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Croatia improved by five places from 69th place in 2018 to 64th place in 2019. Yet, local groups claim that this doesn't necessarily represent the variety of obstacles faced by Croatian media. The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) president Hrvoje Zovko noted that journalists are still exposed to a variety of pressures, attacks, threats, censorship and prosecutions. HND also highlighted that journalists working at the local level are the most exposed and vulnerable to pressure from the state. In fact, the organisation has documented that since 2014 there have been eighteen attacks and ten serious threats reported against journalists.
The group drew attention to the threats against Novi List reporters as indicative of the issues they face. On 22nd May 2019, journalists working for the outlet were sent death threats from an unknown source. The threats were received via e-mail and written on the building of the daily's offices in Rijeka, where an unidentified perpetrator wrote "Killers at the typewriter" and "Poisoners of Croatian society". In response to these attacks, HND said:
"The HND cannot accept state institutions keeping silent about the increase in hate speech and threats to reporters, which we have been warning about for months. We do not see any clear condemnation of threats and attacks. In this case, silence is not golden, it serves as fuel for people who hate everything reporters do and who see in them enemies and not people who work in the public interest."
The association called on Croatian authorities to conduct an expedient, thorough and impartial investigation into the incident.
In a separate development, the Croatian Ministry of Culture has devised a series of revisions for media legislation in an attempt to amend a number of laws which regulate new media. The amendments also hope to counteract the increasing problem of hate speech in Croatia. According to local groups the first step should be a revision of the Law on Electronic Media that is currently being drafted. Despite the positive development, journalists claim that the process has not been transparent and there has not been adequate civil society consultation on the plans. More on this can be seen in the video below.
In a positive development, on 12th July 2019, the Constitutional Court of Croatia published criteria to be followed by courts during lawsuits against journalists and the media, in an attempt to protect freedom of expression. These decisions should rectify the previous court practice, which imposed extremely high penalties on the media for texts that contain value judgments on an individual (especially a political figure) or convey someone's statements. The criteria come at a time when, earlier in 2019, local estimates revealed that there are currently 1,160 ongoing lawsuits against journalists and news outlets in the country. Many of these cases were filed by politicians, public figures and corporations using the vague offence of ‘shaming’, which is still part of the Croatian Criminal Code.
A number of protests have recently taken place in Croatia without any interference or disruption. Below are some recent examples: